This is the first in what I intend to be a series of posts focusing on moments in soccer that illustrate why I spend so much time watching it.
Major League Soccer kicked off this past weekend. The first days of the MLS season have become one of my favorite parts of the sports year, marking the return of domestic soccer played during reason reasonable timeslots. I love the league without apology.
Admittedly, it wasn’t always pretty. MLS is not the highest level soccer available; my admiration for it is on other grounds. There were a lot of really great chances that got wasted in embarrassing fashion. Like, a lot.
Today’s post is about one of those chances, but in a good way. In Saturday night’s game between Orlando and DC, the hosts found themselves down a goal and a man after a controversial first half. In the 79th minute, as the Lions pushed for an equalizer, DC’s Darren Mattocks got behind the last defenders, with the ball at midfield. Mattocks has long been one of the league’s fastest players.
That’s Mohamed El-Munir making the massive effort to catch up with Mattocks and stifle the chance. The 25-year old Libyan defender’s career has taken him to Serbia and Belarus before this, his first competitive game for Orlando. It’s hard to imagine a better way to endear himself to his teammates than that.
Admittedly, this moment may have faded into the past had the game remained 1-0. That seemed likely even as stoppage time began. But Orlando’s valiant performance in the second half was rewarded with a late goal by Stefano Pinho, also making his debut for the club.
Pinho plied his trade last year for Miami in the second-tier North American Soccer League. He led the league in scoring, but the NASL is, for a number of reasons, no more, and he fled ship for Orlando. He came off the bench on Saturday night, which might not have happened if not for the absences of Dom Dwyer and Sacha Kljestan, two players with established success in MLS. Pinho made the most of his opportunity, and 25,000 purple-clad fans won’t forget it.
Soccer is famously a sport without much scoring. This was a game with just two goals. But it’s the moments in between those goals that lend significance and narrative to them. Pinho’s goal is only important because of the tackle made by El-Munir fourteen minutes earlier.